Sometimes on my blog, I explain Catholic practices apologetically, because I grew up outside the Catholic Church and believed many incorrect things about Catholic practices. Since there may be friends and family who still believe those things about Catholics and the Catholic faith, I write with at least some reference to the objections.
Growing up, I was of the belief that the Rosary was some kind of “hocus pocus” that Catholics did. It was always only referenced in connection with Matthew 6:7 – “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” So I always thought that Catholics had this idea that one Lord’s Prayer and ten Hail Mary’s was going to create some magical response from God. That if you just did it once, it wouldn’t be good enough. I thought that all of the prayers of the Rosary were just the “vain repetitions” or “babbling” of heathens. Because I imagined that it was a thoughtless “incantation.”
What I did not really consider then, is that there are different kinds of prayer that are at the disposal of the Christian, and they each have their place. There is vocal prayer, mental prayer, meditation, etc. There are prayers that we say together as a community (liturgical prayer), and there are personal prayers that we offer to God in our own moments of communication with God. There are prayers intended as acts of Adoration (worship of God), Petition, Contrition, Love, or Thanksgiving. There are prayers that we recite that have been written by others, and their are prayers that we find words for ourselves. There are even prayers for which we cannot find words, but we know that God understands and cares even about these prayers.
“For prayer to develop this power of purification, it must on the one hand be something very personal, an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God. On the other hand it must be constantly guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly.” – Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi
So, as I learned more, I realized a few things:
1. It’s good to recite prayers that have been given to us by the Church and the Saints. And in the case of the Lord’s Prayer, even by Jesus Himself. These prayers teach us and “enlighten” us about how to pray.
2. Some prayers that Catholics say are intended to facilitate meditation. There is a lot more to the Rosary than just saying the prayers the certain number of times.
3. The prayers of the Rosary come right out of Scripture. I knew this about the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6). The Hail Mary is based on Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42.
4. Far from being a prayer that overlooks Jesus and focuses only on Mary, “to recite the Rosary is nothing oter than to contemplate the face of Christ with Mary” (Pope John Paul II).
Where did the Rosary Come From?
A brief History of the Rosary (which I am summarizing from here), tells us that early in the church, a monastic practice was to recite either 150, 100, or 50 Psalms. But as time went on, a practice of saying 50 Lord’s Prayers and later 50 Hail Marys was seen as a substitute for those with less time or who were not up on their reading skills. But the idea was to spend disciplined time in prayer and meditation.
In the Rosary we pray five decades (sets of ten) Hail Marys each separated by an Our Father and a Glory Be. So in total we say Fifty Hail Marys which correspond to the older practice of reciting 50 Psalms. A sort of layman’s meditation. But for each decade that we pray, we meditate on a different “Mystery” of Jesus life. Originally, there were three sets of five Mysteries: the Joyful Mysteries, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Glorious Mysteries. If you said all three sets in one day, you would say 150 prayers that would correspond to reciting all 150 Psalms.
Tradition tells us that St. Dominic, in his opposition of the Albigensian heresy early in the thirteenth century, earnestly sought the assistance of St. Mary, who appeared to him and instructed him to preach the use of the Rosary as an antidote to heresy and sin.
What are the Mysteries?
The Joyful Mysteries:
1. The Annunciation (The Angel Gabriel Appears to Mary)
2. The Visitation of Mary to her Cousin Elizabeth
3. The Nativity
4. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple
The Luminous Mysteries (added in 2002):
1. Baptism of Jesus
2. Wedding at Cana
3. The Proclamation of the Kingdom
4. The Transfiguration
5. The Institution of the Eucharist
The Sorrowful Mysteries:
1. The Agony in the Garden
2. The Scourging at the Pillar
3. Jesus is Crowned with Thorns
4. Jesus Carried the Cross
5. The Crucifixion of Our Lord
The Glorious Mysteries:
1. The Resurrection
2. The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven
3. The Descent of the Holy Ghost
4. The Assumption of Mary into Heaven
5. The Coronation of Mary
Why Should You Pray the Rosary?
In the late 19th Century, Pope Leo XIII (also known as the “Rosary Pope”) often wrote Encyclicals for the Church commending the benefits of praying the Rosary. Laetitiae Sanctae is one of many such encyclicals, but it is short and particularly good. Here are a few quotes, directly from Pope Leo XIII:
There are three influences which appear to Us to have the chief place in effecting this downgrade movement of society. These are — first, the distaste for a simple and laborious life; secondly, repugnance to suffering of any kind; thirdly, the forgetfulness of the future life. (Pope Leo XIII – Laetitiae Sanctae)
He notes these three influences which are negatively affecting society (which I think are still relevant today), then how praying the Rosary addresses each one.
For combating the “distaste for the simple and laborious life” we turn to the Joyous Mysteries. We learn from the example of the Holy Family how to live a simple life of work with a free conscience:
These are precious examples of goodness, of modesty, of humility, of hard-working endurance, of kindness to others, of diligence in the small duties of daily life, and of other virtues, and once they have made their influence felt they gradually take root in the soul, and in course of time fail not to bring about a happy change of mind and conduct. Then will each one begin to feel his work to be no longer lowly and irksome, but grateful and lightsome, and clothed with a certain joyousness by his sense of duty in discharging it conscientiously.
For combating the “repugnance of suffering” we turn to the Sorrowful Mysteries.
A second evil, one which is specially pernicious, and one which, owing to the increasing mischief which it works among souls, we can never sufficiently deplore, is to be found in repugnance to suffering and eagerness to escape whatever is hard or painful to endure. The greater number are thus robbed of that peace and freedom of mind which remains the reward of those who do what is right undismayed by the perils or troubles to be met with in doing so. Rather do they dream of a chimeric civilization in which all that is unpleasant shall be removed, and all that is pleasant shall be supplied. By this passionate and unbridled desire of living a life of pleasure, the minds of men are weakened, and if they do not entirely succumb, they become demoralized and miserably cower and sink under the hardships of the battle of life.
The remedy for this evil is found in the meditation on the Sorrowful Mysteries. We learn, by Jesus’ example, how to endure suffering for the sake of the joy before us. We watch Jesus endure His spiritual and physical trials and see that He turns to His Father in prayer. We learn to submit ourselves to Gods will, even if it is His will that we should suffer.
Finally, to combat the “forgetfulness of the future life” we turn to the Glorious Mysteries:
But men of carnal mind, who love nothing but themselves, allow their thoughts to grovel upon things of earth until they are unable to lift them to that which is higher. For, far from using the goods of time as a help towards securing those which are eternal, they lose sight altogether of the world which is to come, and sink to the lowest depths of degradation. We may doubt if God could inflict upon man a more terrible punishment than to allow him to waste his whole life in the pursuit of earthly pleasures, and in forgetfulness of the happiness which alone lasts for ever.
Meditating on the Glorious Mysteries:
Dwelling upon such a prospect, our hearts are kindled with desire, and we exclaim, in the words of a great saint, “How vile grows the earth when I look up to heaven!” Then, too, shall we feel the solace of the assurance “that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. iv., 17).
Even with Little Kids? Mine won’t even sit still!
Yep. Even with the littles. Realize that they will get up and play, and giggle at each other, and get distracted by a Rosary fashion show, and all kinds of silliness. But it’s valuable. I’m a firm believer in the kids getting early exposure. I think if you start them learning to pray at an early age, they will be more able to participate when they are older. (Same goes for sitting quietly in Church.) You can’t expect to wait for them all to be old enough and ready to participate, because no matter when you start, it’s going to be clumsy and imperfect.
We have the big-bead rainbow colored kids Rosary for Alasdair (2). He usually holds it and listens or plays quietly on the floor while we pray. Nikki (5) and Penny (3) each have rosaries that they hold. Penny just holds hers, but Nikki (with help) tries to follow along on her own Rosary. We have started our kids early with their prayers. They don’t always participate. Sometimes we have to go back to the basics and just say a phrase and let them repeat it back. Gradually they get it, but it takes time. And they still need to be reminded to participate and not play or giggle at each other. The most we’ve ever done all together was three decades.
You can find images of the mysteries on-line, or you can use Rosary apps on your computer or phone. The kids find this helpful because they like to look at the image and talk about the story a little before we start that decade. Even Alasdair likes to find Jesus or Mary in the picture. Some guides you can buy also have scripture reflections for each Mystery that are either read before you pray that decade or read a verse between each Hail Mary. We have tried it both ways and enjoyed both.
It does not have to be perfect because you are teaching them! Get creative with how to teach your kids to pray. Start with the building blocks. Teach them the Our Father first. Then the Hail Mary, then the Glory Be. Then put them together. Maybe you only ever say one decade at a time together. Maybe you say one on the way to school in the morning, and one on the way home from school in the afternoon. But these efforts with your little ones will grow into an ability to pray together when they are older too.
Over on CatholicIcing, Lacy has some fun Rosary Crafts and teaching ideas to use with your kids! We tried out her Rosary Board craft to give us a nice big visual to use on the coffee table when we pray in the evening. Here’s how it turned out! They love taking turns moving Jesus around our Rosary Board. And the pictures of the Mysteries are all right there, so they can point to the picture when we announce the Mystery that we’re on.
Have you tried praying the Rosary with your kids? What has worked & what hasn’t?